The COVID-19 pandemic forced countless businesses to transition their employees to remote work, and through this process, many learned that remote work can offer multiple advantages, including increased employee productivity and morale and decreased expense associated with commercial office space and employee parking. Even those companies continuing to prefer an in-person presence have permitted at least some remote work on a hybrid basis, if only to remain competitive in a tight labor market. Lurking in the background is the unavoidable suspicion that at least some remote workers are taking advantage of the situation, and, indeed, some are—and in a surprising way. An increasing number of remote employees are working multiple jobs at the same time, so much so that the phenomenon is now referred to as “overemployed.”
Along with the phenomenon, overemployed workers have created websites and used social media around this topic. One website offers tips and guidance to workers seeking to join this relatively new movement of working multiple jobs simultaneously. Some of these platforms share tips to avoid being caught, including recommendations to use certain technologies to avoid being found out (such as a mechanical mouse jiggler intended to keep your online status as “active,” regardless of whether you are).
While some employers permit outside employment, these policies usually contemplate individuals working different jobs at separate times—not working more than one job simultaneously. Essentially, the first employer is paying an employee to perform work for the second employer and vice versa. And, both employers are receiving less than full-time production by the employee. In addition to theft of time, companies with overemployed workers may find that confidential information is being disclosed, whether intentionally or not, and potentially to competitors in the industry.
There are signs to watch for relative to an employer’s current workforce potentially being overemployed. One of the key indicators that an employee may be overemployed is that, once hired, the employee does not update his or her social media and networking profiles to indicate the new job, or the employee “hibernates” his or her profile, meaning the profile is no longer visible. Other indicators could be an employee declining healthcare benefits (which often also happens because of a partner’s benefits coverage) as well as employees failing to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings, being late to or absent from meetings without explanation, and being slow to respond to emails or other messages.
Companies wishing to avoid this situation may want to consider the following proactive measures:
- Maintaining a policy on outside employment that explicitly prohibits overemployment and that requires pre-approval to work another job during off-days or off-hours
- Implementing a stout conflicts of interest policy and confidentiality agreement
- Considering whether other forms of restrictive covenants may be needed, assuming permissible under state law.
- Asking perspective job candidates why they are searching for new employment and how much notice they would need to provide to their current employers if they are offered a job
- Performing reference checks and background checks, consistent with applicable law
- Reminding managers that not all meetings need to be scheduled (just as a manager might randomly check in on an employee in the physical workplace).
In the end, it is neither practical nor desirable to micro-manage remote employees, but by being mindful of the red flags, employers may be able to minimize the impact of this overemployment trend on business operations.